Skip to content

Sharing economic ideas

MIT pro­fessor and social activist Noam Chomsky said that America’s Founding Fathers designed the Con­sti­tu­tion based on the prin­ciple of pro­tecting the wealthy minority and sub­verting the pow­er­less majority.

“They wanted to keep med­dle­some out­siders from inter­fering,” he explained, noting James Madison’s belief that “power should be in the hands of the wealthy and people who have sym­pathy for prop­erty owners and their rights.”

Chomsky, who is known as the “father of lin­guis­tics,” addressed more than 300 stu­dents, fac­ulty and staff who filled the Curry Stu­dent Center Ball­room on Monday evening for the university’s inau­gural Boston Sym­po­sium on Eco­nomics enti­tled “The Effi­cacy of World Change.”

The event — which was designed and spon­sored by the North­eastern Eco­nomics Society, an under­grad­uate stu­dent club based in the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties — also fea­tured pre­sen­ta­tions by Alan Dyer, an asso­ciate pro­fessor of eco­nomics, and Rory Smead, an assis­tant pro­fessor of phi­los­ophy and religion.

Viraj Parikh, the stu­dent group’s exec­u­tive director of cur­rent affairs, wel­comed atten­dees to the symposium.

The third-​​year eco­nomics major advo­cated for closing the gap between polit­ical par­ties. “Polit­ical labels demor­alize and hinder our ability to fix society’s prob­lems,” he said. “We should spread ideas that ben­efit the human con­di­tion as a whole.”

For his part, Chomsky focused on the con­cept of the pro­pa­ganda model, which he exam­ined in the 1988 book, “Man­u­fac­turing Con­sent: The Polit­ical Economy of the Mass Media.” The theory, he said, posits that corporate-​​owned print, radio and tele­vi­sion media manip­u­late “unin­formed con­sumers who make irra­tional choices” into con­senting to social, eco­nomic and polit­ical policies.

“The two goals of the public rela­tions industry are to under­mine mar­kets and under­mine democ­racy,” Chomsky said, adding that the industry is “designed to con­vince you that all kinds of mag­ical things will happen if you buy” par­tic­ular products.

Smead shifted the dis­cus­sion from the media to the envi­ron­ment. He employed the prin­ci­ples of game theory to explain how con­flicting incen­tives fuel cli­mate change, which, he admitted, is “too com­plex and too nuanced to be cap­tured by math­e­mat­ical tools.”

By way of example, Smead ana­lyzed the so-​​called Tragedy of the Com­mons, a sce­nario in which indi­vid­uals acting on rational self-​​interest drain a lim­ited resource in spite of the neg­a­tive long-​​term impact on society.

“Indi­vidual self-​​interest drives people to exploit their envi­ron­ment, which leads to a cat­a­strophe on a large scale,” Smead explained. “Making use of public goods is indi­vid­u­ally ben­e­fi­cial, but costs society as a whole.”

He offered a broad solu­tion to the dilemma, which was first described by ecol­o­gist Gar­rett Hardin in 1968. As Smead put it, “We have to change the interest struc­ture by aligning indi­vidual and social interest.”

Dyer offered an uncon­ven­tional solu­tion designed to pro­mote fun­da­mental change in the finan­cial sector, proposing a mon­e­tary system in which money becomes worth­less after a set period of time.

He referred to this par­tic­ular kind of cur­rency as “veg­etable money,” noting that “it cannot be used as a store of value because it lit­er­ally rots.”

“I bet you’re not going to hear anyone pro­pose this in the near future,” he added.

– by Jason Kornwitz

More Stories

Photo of the Capitol Building at night

High stakes for politics, SCOTUS in 2018

Photo of the crashed truck that was used in the October 31st attack in Manhattan.

Weaponizing Language: How the meaning of “allahu akbar” has been distorted

Northeastern logo

Why I love studying Spanish